The U.S. Space Force, the smallest of all six uniformed military branches in both budget and personnel, has a new leader who on his first day talked up making his command “combat ready” as tensions between the biggest space faring nations grow larger.
On Wednesday, Bradley (B.) Chance Saltzman was named the new Chief of Space Operations for Space Force, taking over from Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, making him only the second grand poobah in the armed forces branch’s history. Cue the chorus to Space Force’s recently revealed theme song.
Saltzman, 53, has been with Space Force since 2020 after years in the U.S. Air Force as a missile and space operations officer. He’s worked on missile launch operations such as the Minuteman III hypersonic “super duper missile” as well as doing satellite operations for the National Reconnaissance Office, according to his official bio. He was the last commander of the 614th Space Operations Squadron under the Air Force Space Command, which has since been rolled into Space Force as the Space Operations Command.
Before his new promotion, Saltzman was the Deputy Chief of Space Operations, overseeing the section’s cyber and nuclear operations. He’s now responsible for close to 15,000 professional (AKA Guardians) and civilian personnel.
In an official release, the incoming CSO said “The world is becoming increasingly dangerous and preserving U.S. national security interests in space is growing harder every day… A resilient, ready, and combat-credible Space Force is indispensable to deterrence today, tomorrow, and every day after that. In the worst case, if deterrence fails, the Space Force will be an indispensable component of our joint force at war.”
The release further called space a “warfighting domain.” Almost echoing Frank Herbert’s Dune and Duke Leto Atreides proclamations of “desert power,” Space Force, under its new commander, called “space power” a foundational aspect for the U.S. joint forces.
Saltzman also said that making Space Force a combat ready member of the armed services branches would “not be an easy or short-lived task.” Space Force is still a comparatively miniscule aspect of the overall U.S. military apparatus. Its few thousand personnel is dwarfed by the Air Force’s near-650,000. Not to mention, U.S. Space Command is actually responsible for military response in outer space. Before his stint at Space Force and now retirement, Raymond also commanded Space Command from 2019 to 2020.
These comments about combat readiness might just be posturing in the grand scheme of things. Space Force’s requested $24.5 billion budget makes up just 3% of President Joe Biden’s $773 billion defense budget. Space Force is not exactly going up in rockets to fight rolling anti-gravity battles in low earth orbit (read more about what exactly Space Force is here). Neither is Space Force developing weapons to knock satellites out of orbit, especially since Biden’s administration has argued that anti-satellite missiles pose a danger to every space-faring nation.
That’s not to say Space Force doesn’t have combat capabilities. The armed service branch recently conducted tests of its “Black Skies” satellite jamming system. It’s a kind of system that both China and Russia also use, according to Space Force. Tensions between the three big space-faring nations, especially Russia, have only increased due to the ongoing brutal war in Ukraine.
In a recent interview with the Daily Show, Raymond said their mission was “to protect and defend the capabilities that we have in space, and to deter conflict from beginning in space or extending into space.” They also handle missile warning services around the globe while also handling the world’s GPS system. Although Raymond has said his former command could “comfortably defend” U.S. satellites, experts have previously told Gizmodo that Space Force has mostly worked to deter hostile actors from attacking U.S. satellites in the first place.